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Moving to Spain

Updated on April 10, 2013

You're thinking of moving to Spain.

You’ve decided Spain would be quite a nice place to live and work, or perhaps just to live if you are retired or about to.

If you are already a member of the European Community, it is a relatively easy process. EC rules allow all members from member states to live and work in any other member state country.

If you are from anywhere else, it is less easy but not impossible.

Acquiring a NIE Number

A British citizen, for example, just needs to present his passport plus a spare photograph at the local police station in the area they are moving to. For a small fee they will be given a NIE number. This is a personal number that will follow you around all the time you live in Spain. It is needed for everything, even including your application for a loyalty Carrefour Customer card! I’ve got a NIE, but have never been able to get a loyalty card yet – they keep fobbing me off with excuses. Gets that I just don’t shop there ever.

Anyway, this NIE number is of vital importance. You will need to produce it if you get a job, or if you hire a car, or buy a car on finance, or even to rent an apartment.

If you open a business, or take out a mortgage on a house, or even if you pay for your house in cash, you will need your NIE.


The other thing that used to be required is that you take out what they call residencia. You are a resident of Spain, and the Spanish themselves have a national security card that can be used at airports instead of a passport. For a long time, Spain has insisted that all of its immigrants carry this card.

Then round about 2003 they declared it no longer a necessity. Members of other European EC states did not need to apply for one.

Application is not that easy anyway. It involves a trip to Alicante (from my area) where you wait in line for someone to take your fingerprints, hand over a fee, your NIE number (of course) your passport (again) and receive a nationality card, that isn’t actually a nationality card but one that just says you are resident in Spain (in case you are confused about which country you live in).

[Note] Another recent rule change means that you can now apply for residencia at any national police office and you no longer need to go to Alicante or your nearest major metropolis].

Capital Gains tax

So now we are in strange situation. Residencia is no longer a requirement, but you still need it prove you have been living here. This matters when you come to sell your house, because the tax rate on capital gains tax is different between residents and non-residents.

I believe someone (with money obviously) paid a QC recently to take them on in court, and WON! There should not be difference between the rate of capital gains tax you pay whether you are resident or not. Obviously if you sell and buy locally, they will be no such tax, but many people sell because they simply can’t afford their mortgage in this recession. Who is to say you are selling and quitting the country? You might be renting your own house back.

Empadronment - registering at the local authority

Now it seems a bit daft to me, because wherever you live in Spain, you will have, or should have, registered yourself at your local town hall.

This is called empadronamiento. You have joined the padron. The town council can now claim more money from central government for your upkeep.

It’s basically the same as registering for rates or council tax, though you know that even if you don’t register these bills keep arriving.

With the letter they give you to say you are registered at the Town Hall, you can take out HP apparently. I tried it but they told me I had to be working first!

Your empadronamiento papers are important, so remember to keep them safe.

Working in Spain

It is the law in Spain that your employer must give you a contract to work under, and that he must pay your share of social security and tax. Many employers like to get round this by offering casual work, but there is a big fine for him if he is caught.

You as a worker will find that without a contract, you are not entitled to health care if you get sick, nor unemployment benefit if you find yourself unemployed.

While there are a lot of things I like about the way Spain runs things, I do feel there is an unfair burden on the employer here. The minimum social security payment is €240 a month, and that is a lot of money for the small businessman to find on top of wages.

Contract workers have a minimum wage set down by law. I believe it is in the range of €5 an hour.

Spanish Legal System

I actually like their criminal system. If someone does something to you, whether that is allowing their dog to bark all night, thereby depriving you of sleep, or cheat you in a business transaction, or just beat the living daylights out of you, you can just go along to your local police station and denounce them.

You explain your story to the policeman on duty, he takes a note of it, and the accused duly gets called to court to explain his actions.

You the accuser will also get a call to go along as witness, and it is at this time you can round up any witnesses that can speak in your favour, if you hadn’t already given names at the time you made the denouncement. If you had, they will also receive a summons to attend.

The court listens to both sides of the argument, and makes its decision there and then.

Back in the UK, you make your complaint to the police (same as here) then they speak to the witnesses, and forward all the paperwork to the court who then decides if a prosecution is to go ahead.

The police have definitely got less work to do here, but the courts more.

Automatic Damages

If someone assaults you, you have to attend a doctor and get a written report from him about your injuries, as well as make the denuncia yourself at the police station. The police will want a copy of the medical report.

Armed with both, the courts can and will take over the case of the private prosecutor. They will effectively sue the assailant for damages.

If the assailant (after being found guilty in court) has any assets, they will be seized to compensate the victim.

There are many people here in Spain, who can NEVER own a house, or take out HP, or have household bills in their name, because they had previously been convicted of a violent offence.

Knowing this, it certainly does make you think twice about starting a fight, or being the one to strike the first blow.

In Spain, there is no redemption. You can’t serve your time in jail and come back out and lead the life you may have lived before, if you were the cause of someone else’s misfortune.

So there we are, I have discussed a little bit about the Spanish system.

Language Barrier

By far and the biggest problem most folk find when they move here is the language barrier. They’ve come on holiday to the likes of Benidorm, and found that everyone, more or less, could speak English.

Well I can tell you that the only Spanish who can speak English work in tourist resorts.

Those who don’t, can’t, or won’t. Even the local police in Benidorm don’t have much of a command of the English language, far less lawyers or someone you need to communicate with.

And why should they? This is Spain. This is a foreign country and these people are proud of their heritage and did not need to learn English until the English speakers came along.

The Spanish call the tourists ‘guiris’ (pronounced ‘geeries’).

It means, more or less, to babble. That is how they heard us speak, babbling. We could say the same of them, only there aren’t many Spaniards in the UK without at least basic level English.

Yet we think we can live amongst them, in their own country, without at least a basic level Spanish? How arrogant of us!

I had a dear friend in Benidorm. This girl was a nutter through and through. Sorry but no other words can describe her.

She went for a job in McDonald’s in Benidorm, thinking to herself, that can’t be hard because burgers are the same word, chips are patatas fritas, a Big Mac is still a Big Mac (pronounced Beeg Mac)

At the interview they asked her if she could speak Spanish?

“Si”, she replied.

There was a silence in the room while they waited for her to elaborate.

Finally, they urged her “y mas?” (and more?)

That’s when she opened her big gob and said “ I can say ‘si’ and ‘no’ and ‘por favor’ and ‘gratias’.

She didn’t get the job! Unsurprisingly.

To live in Spain, it is necessary you have either the money to pay for a translator every time you deal with authority, or to learn the language. To make matters worse, here on the Costa Blanca their official language is Valenciano, which is very similar to Catalan. Spain has many languages but only one official one, and that is castellano.

If you learn Mexican Spanish, you will soon realise that the Spanish language is different, although understandable to all Spanish speakers. It is probably the equivalent of the difference between English English and American English.

I tried to learn Spanish using a Mexican Spanish program, but soon discovered the differences. However, they are not that great, and Mexican Spanish speakers can rest assured knowing they are more likely to find a comfortable home here in Spain than those that have not learned any of the language.


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    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Rumor has it that years ago an advertising company put all those bulls up on billboards on hills, and that since then the council have taken them over as representative of Spain or something! They are all over the place! Spanish drivers are suicidal - just more even more manically than them and you'll be fine :)

    • jpwriter profile image


      8 years ago

      Hey, I have a picture w/the same, or one of, those bulls on the hills. I lived for a few months in Mardrid a few years ago.

      The language is definitely different. Pronunciation and everything that they teach in the US, which is Mexican Spanish, was useful in Spain, but not like they made in seem in Spanish classes! Fortunately, I was staying w/someone. I even drove. You guys are speedy!

      Good hub. :)

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Well thanks for commenting and I'm glad you found something useful :)

      Maybe one day you will end up in Spain, who knows, eh?

    • jdaviswrites profile image

      Jeff Davis 

      8 years ago from California

      If i could aquire a visa in order to work a job legally, i would be in Spain. I hope the economy isn't hurting you too much right now. Very useful hub though. Glad I came across you here on hubpages, i'm headed off to read more. thanks and keep it up...

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Yes you can report this to the social security and the employer will probably get hit with a big fine! Then in turn he will sack your girlfriend and there is nothing she can do about it because she never had a contract.

      The best idea is for your friend to talk to her employer and ask for a contract. I think the minimum contract is for something like 20 hours and that will give her some coverage even though she is working a lot more hours than that. Hope this helps:)

    • profile image

      edgar lopez 

      8 years ago

      hi,i know a friend who work in antiquedades in benidorm,opposite el cisne..she work about 1 and 1/2 year,she dont have any contract,she work 4 times aweek,on weekdays she work at night and on sundays she work whole day and night,do u think this is fair to her??maybe we can report this to to seguridad social,but i dont know what to do,or maybe you can help..

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      If you are a qualified teacher there are many international schools you can apply for a teaching job to, so you have the security of knowing you have a wage coming in, no matter where you go. Best of luck!

    • premierkj profile image


      8 years ago from Republic of Ireland

      Thanks for the info. I am planning to move to some EU city to teach English. I am thinking of either Barcelona, Milan or Prague. A lot of British and Irish don't make the most of this great opportunity we have to live quite easily in any part of the EU. I can't wait!

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Horrible thought. Things are hard enough here.

    • expats profile image


      8 years ago from UK

      I imagine a lot of Brits will be put off moving to Spain for the moment. There is talk of what is happening in Greece with the new austerity measures being implemented in Portugal and Spain if their economies don't pick up sometime soon.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Not until you are pension age or over.

      Even if you are not working, I think you can choose to pay the Spanish national insurance stamp anyway. Its about €240 a month and one payment will cover a family (mum, dad, kids under 16).

      Most people from the UK can obtain an E111 ( )card that will entitle them to free emergency care in a reciprocal agreement the UK has with the EU. But that is emergency care only - not for pre-existing conditions or ongoing care.

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Kate Swanson 

      8 years ago from Sydney

      Hi Izzy. My husband and I have fantasised now and then of coming back to Europe and settling in Spain or Italy. However I had assumed that being EC citizens, we'd qualify for health cover like in the UK. So you're saying that if you're not working in Spain, there's no free health care?

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Thanks Marieyan, but I still say it is important to learn at least some of the language before you move. Our local ayuntamiento runs these classes, in fact I am attending one just now, but they are generally not for very beginners, unless they are designed for primary school kids - you know the sort of things - words for 'desk', 'erasor', 'pencil'. The one I am attending at the moment has had a huge drop-out rate because how can people who don't know even their numbers or letters possibly gain anything from learning verb endings and correct grammatical usage? I'm actually learning something because I already speak conversational Spanish, and sadly it seems most never learn that.

      But for anyone reading here, Marieyan offers excellent advice. Most of these courses are completely free.

    • marieryan profile image

      Marie Ryan 

      8 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      IzzyM, this was a very thorough and useful article!

      I agree with you that the language barrier is certainly the biggest obstacle an ex-pat has to face. However, many local town halls do organise very cheap Spanish lessons for foreigners, if they have enough residents on the 'empadronamiento' to warrant it.

      It's worth finding out waht the local 'Ayuntamiento' organise in their 'Centro Cultural'

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      If you've got one, by all means bring it. If not, they are sold here anyway. Yes, with a water filter jug the tap water tastes a lot better and negates the need to buy bottled water. Although the drinking water is safe to drink, it is very hard with not only natural minerals but added chlorine etc or whatever it is exactly they put in the drinking water! Hope this reply helps :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I came across your site whilst looking for info on using water filter jugs in Spain. We are tthinking of bringing one out when we come on Sunday . good idea or not? thanks


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